In the aftermath of the underwhelming Zune, there's still everything to play for in the MP3 player market. But with no clear rival to the iPod after almost six years, few in the industry are holding their breath for a viable contender at CES 2007.
Microsoft succeeded in building a position for its Xbox in the video console market by sustaining a loss of $4bn on the product. Presumably it will be prepared to suffer greater losses to help the Zune to unseat the iPod, yet still the company has struggled. If Microsoft has been unable to gain market share from the iPod with the Zune, it's hard to see anyone else taking on the beast of Cupertino with much conviction.
The truth is we'd love to see some real competition in the MP3 player field, but it looks very much like the same old story is likely to unfold at this year's CES. Crave predicts Zune-like wireless features in some of this year's MP3 players, and more portable Bluetooth headphones. Companies such as Creative, SanDisk and Samsung are likely to reveal feature-packed MP3 players.
We expect the players' interfaces to remain largely unchanged. Apple's patent on the Click Wheel and its licensing agreement with Creative over the iPod's hierarchical menu system make for a tough challenge. It will take genuine innovation from Apple's rivals to fight back -- something that was severely lacking from CES last year.
For context, let's look back at CES 2006. Star of the show was arguably the Samsung YP-Z5, a small iPod nano rival whose interface we initially described as "slick, far slicker than Apple's", but on reflection later in the year -- once we'd got our hands on a review model -- we changed our tune: "The touchpad is fiddly -- no match for the iPod", our review concludes.
One part of the MP3 player world that hasn't stagnated is the accessories market -- cases, leads, car adaptors and even cupholders for the iPod could be in store for us. Check back for updates at we get news of developments. -CS